Hospitalizations from COVID-19 in southeastern Wisconsin have increased more than tenfold in the last six weeks as a new surge of infections takes hold across the state.
According to the latest data from the Wisconsin Hospital Association, 329 people in the nine-county region that includes Milwaukee were hospitalized with the disease as of Tuesday. The number of COVID-19 patients in the region's 31 hospitals hit a low point of 25 on July 2. It has been rising sharply since mid-July as the more contagious delta variant of the coronavirus has spread in Wisconsin.
The same pattern in hospitalizations holds true across the state. There were 683 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 on Tuesday, and 222 in COVID-19 intensive care. The statewide low point for 2021 was July 4, when there were 76 patients hospitalized with the disease. It's an increase of nearly 800 percent in just over six weeks.
Dr. Ben Weston, the director of Medical Services for the Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management, called attention to the steep increase in hospitalizations during a press call with Milwaukee County officials.
"For those who have not yet gotten vaccinated, now is the time," Weston said. "The delta variant is widespread, and the vaccine significantly decreases your risk of infection, the risk of severe symptoms, your risk of hospitalization and your risk of death."
Data from the state Department of Health Services showed the seven-day average of new cases was 1,218 on Tuesday. That's the highest it's been since February. The 1,666 new cases the state recorded Monday were the most new infections in a single day since Jan. 27.
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The spike in new infections and hospitalizations in Wisconsin comes weeks after a surge in cases has overtaken many southern states, overrunning hospital capacities and leading to a spike in new deaths from the disease.
Public health officials said Wisconsin could see the same pattern, particularly in areas where vaccine uptake has been low.
"There are more cases now both statewide and nationwide than we saw in the early months of the pandemic," said Darren Rausch, health officer of the city of Greenfield. "That's very notable because we have vaccine now, and we didn't have that 18 months ago."
On Tuesday, Dane County issued a new indoor mask mandate for public spaces, citing a 382 percent increase in new infections there in the last month. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said Milwaukee is "monitoring these number very, very closely," and that the Milwaukee City Council would likely consider a new mask mandate when it returns in September.
Overall, 53.4 percent of Wisconsin’s population has received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. But rates vary widely even within different communities, leaving millions vulnerable to infection.
"The vast majority of infections," Weston said, "of people with severe symptoms, of hospitalizations and deaths are all people you have not yet received any doses of vaccine, and certainly are not fully vaccinated."